The House of the Wolfings
Title page of 1889 First Edition, London
|Publisher||Reeves and Turner|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Followed by||The Roots of the Mountains|
A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark is a fantasy novel by William Morris, perhaps the first modern fantasy writer to unite an imaginary world with the element of the supernatural, and thus the precursor of much of present-day fantasy literature. It was first published in hardcover by Reeves and Turner in 1889. Its importance in the history of fantasy literature was recognized by its republication by the Newcastle Publishing Company as the sixteenth volume of the celebrated Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library in April, 1978.
This book also influenced J. R. R. Tolkien's popular The Lord of the Rings. In a December 31, 1960 letter published in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, (p. 303), Tolkien wrote: 'The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme. They owe more to William Morris and his Huns and Romans, as in The House of the Wolfings or The Roots of the Mountains." Among the numerous parallels with The Lord of the Rings, Morris has Old English-style placenames such as Mirkwood (p. 2), germanic personal names such as Thiodolf (p. 8), and dwarves as skilled smiths ("How the Dwarf-wrought Hauberk was Brought away from the Hall of the Daylings", p. 97).
This work and its successor, The Roots of the Mountains, were to some degree historical novels, with little or no magic. Morris would go on to develop the new genre established in this work in such later fantasies as Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair, The Wood Beyond the World, The Well at the World's End, and The Water of the Wondrous Isles.
The House of the Wolfings is Morris' romantically reconstructed portrait of the lives of the Germanic Gothic tribes, written in an archaic style and incorporating a large amount of poetry. It combines his own idealistic views with what was actually known at the time of his subjects' folkways and language. He portrays them as simple and hardworking, galvanized into heroic action to defend their families and liberty by the attacks of imperial Rome.
Morris' Goths inhabit an area called the Mark on a river in the forest of Mirkwood, divided according into the Upper-mark, the Mid-mark and the Nether-mark. They worship their gods Odin and Tyr by sacrificing horses and rely on seers who foretell the future and serve as psychic news-gatherers.
The men of the Mark choose two War Dukes to lead them against their enemies, one each from the House of the Wolfings and the House of the Laxings. The Wolfing war leader is Thiodolf, a man of mysterious and perhaps divine antecedents whose ability to lead is threatened by his possession of a magnificent dwarf-made mail-shirt which, unknown to him, is cursed. He is supported by his lover the Wood Sun and their daughter the Hall Sun, who are related to the gods.
- L. Sprague de Camp, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy, Arkham House, 1976, p. 40 ISBN 0-87054-076-9
- Eugene D. LeMire, A Bibliography of William Morris, New Castle, Del. , Oak Knoll Press, 2006, pp. 127-133
- L. Sprague de Camp, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 42-5 ISBN 0-87054-076-9